Tuesday, June 7, 2011

High School Images by Alyssa

I did the same comparison with high school age cartoons.
I looked at Diara and Total Drama Island

Total Drama Island

I looked at the girls in both shows:
When going to either punk/not cool girl or Ms. Popular, all are thin
but you can see people who look like this in real life.  
Unlike in Diara, these body shapes are abnormal  and to look like
this would be impossible and unhealthy. What is also interesting is
the 'goth' girl and the popular girl have the exact same body.
Only clothing and style is different.

I found similar themes with the images for boys.
I tried to find images of both the punk-y boy and the 'pretty boy' with his shirt half open

Similar extreme body distortion is applied. The boys in Total Drama Island have large pec muscles and emphasized abs. While in Diara, this is not the case.

When looking at images of cartoons I wanted to look at similar age groups of both what age the shows were targeted to and what age the characters in the cartoons were:
I first looked at Doug:

Note how the most skin that is shown in either below the knees or from elbows to hands. The only case different is the green skinned girl in the upper left corner.  
There is also no shape to these characters. There is not womanly figure to the girls and no seen muscles on the boys
I then looked at a more modern cartoon of Kim Possible:

There is more shape to Kim, the red head. She is much skinner and has a bear waist. But still not that bad.
It was then I tried to find more images in each show to  see if there was a different.

In boys I compared the main male characters Ron Stoppable and Doug Funnie.

   These boys are pretty similar. Both wear baggy clothes and show realistic body shapes for their age group.    

In girls, this is not the case.  I compared Kim Possible and Patti Mayonnaise.

Patti (on left) essentially has the body shape of a 2x4. She is still feminine due the shirt but it is in no way pressuring girls to look a certain way.  Kim and her friends, center above, show curves and tiny waist and breast. (I am not sure about the pointed part)  
Even when I found the another image of Patti and The Doug gang, the same things still run true that Doug is not pressuring its audience to look a certain way. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Race "Place Holders"

It has recently come to my attention that there are no real uses for race in cartoons anymore. In older cartoons such as 90's cartoons, you see there are many different races that are represented with social problems. In older generation cartoons there were times when the races were represented as a bit of a stereotype but still very important to the story. These characters in the older cartoons were being shown what the other races were going through so there would be sympathy shown toward them so they were a lesson to be learned from.
Now the use of raises seems to be to not get sued. If a show was to contain only white people it would be considered racist and therefore taken off the air. Now we have these shows that contain either all "gray" characters that cannot be taken seriously, or you have these shows that are holding racial "place holders". These shows are able to just have the same person do whatever the other people are doing but not really become an individual. There are almost no reasons to have different races of people. This irritated me because I learned so much about class and race from watching what I watched when I was a kid.

Pushing Boundaries

In my previous post, I discussed the various roles that kids' cartoons fill. Unsurprisingly, those cartoons that focus primarily on entertainment tend to be the “edgiest,” and face the most controversy. For this post, I want to examine one cartoon from the 90s that pushed boundaries so far its creator was fired. That cartoon is The Ren and Stimpy Show, created by John Krisfaluci.
Ren and Stimpy seems to be a counterpoint to other Nicktoons of its era. Where Rugrats, Doug, and their ilk preached friendship and teamwork, Ren and Stimpy featured insanity, abuse, and in one banned episode, a father figure verbally abusing and terrifying the titular characters. While other cartoons of the time could be gross, Ren and Stimpy was filled with toilet humor. Most notorious for grossness were the paintings that were interspersed into each episode. These were frames that were painted normally rather than cel-shaded, which usually didn't move much and were often extreme close-ups of gross faces. They often accompanied Ren's "freak outs," where he would lose his tenuous grip on sanity. Two examples are given below:


The cartoon often mocked the marketing-focused state of children's programming with fake toy commericals, and before or after each episode, Ren and Stimpy themselves would address the audience, reading fake letters from their fans in a satire of kids' fan clubs.

I cannot simply show you every questionable moment in Ren and Stimpy, but to give you an idea of how much John K. liked to push the limits of his show, below is a paragraph from Wikipedia listing what didn't make it into the show:

“Some segments of the show were altered to exclude references to religion, politics and alcohol. The episode "Powdered Toast Man" was stripped of references to the Pope and the burning of the United States constitution and bill of rights, while in another episode, the character George Liquor's last name was erased. Several episodes had violent or gruesome scenes shortened or removed, including a sequence involving a severed head, a close-up of Ren's face being grated by a man's stubble, and a scene where Ren receives multiple punches to the stomach from an angry baby.”

Despite this, and despite outrage from parental groups and censors, Ren and Stimpy was a huge hit. Even I watched the show, until the day I repeated a line that so angered my mother she banned it from our TV. When my father went to take a shower, I told him, "Don't forget to wash where the sun don't shine." I thought it meant behind his ears.
After two seasons, however, John K. was fired due to failures to meet contractual obligations (he was incapable of producing cartoons on schedule, though he blamed Nickelodeon for constantly giving and then withdrawing permission as to what could be featured in the show). John K. himself blamed the banned episode featured above, Man's Best Friend (full episode here, unfortunately reversed).
John K’s vision for the series was instrumental in making sure Ren and Stimpy did not fit the same mold as other cartoons on the network—unlike most cartoon-makers in the 90s, he refused to even pay lip service to the notion of his cartoon being an educational medium. In an interview for David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview, Bill Wray, another animator on the show, said the following about the goal of Ren and Stimpy:

 “We don’t want to satisfy parental groups that are solely interested in educating children, because then you’re no longer doing great entertainment, you’re doing education. Kids have a million things today that regulate their lives. What we’re doing is animation and cartoons for the sake of having fun. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong is trying to pretend that fun is educational, like networks do with THE JETSONS. THE JETSONS isn’t education, but the networks say it is in order to fill a quota. And if you were to try and make THE JETSONS educational, then it would be boring.”

The full interview can be found here.

The show continued for another three seasons after John K’s firing, with Billy West taking over the part of Ren (John K had originally been his voice actor). John K's presence removed, the cartoon became tamer, and the characters cuter and more marketable. Compare, from the first season:

to this image, from Season 5:
Ren's voice went from a bad impression of Peter Lorre (as heard in the previous episodes) to a caricature of a Mexican accent.

Ren and Stimpy’s boundary-pushing may have led to its creator’s firing and endless controversy, but like many who cross the line, it left a legacy. SpongeBob SquarePants features similar grotesque faces and extreme close-ups. Courage the Cowardly Dog featured a tamer abusive relationship and mixed media animation. It also pushed the notion of cartoons for adults into the spotlight—by treading into adult territory, it paved the way for shows such as Beavis and Butthead and South Park to be taken seriously by networks. An homage to the series even remains in The Simpsons: Itchy and Scratchy, the fictional super-violent cartoon, is quite obviously a reference to Ren and Stimpy. Additionally, the quality of the animation in the first two seasons, strange art design, music, and strong satire have all received critical praise and are often cited by other animators. To that end, then, The Ren and Stimpy Show had artistic merit. And while John K has since released a volume of Ren and Stimpy intended for adults, I at least personally feel that they are weaker than the first two seasons of the show, where he was at least nominally restricted to kid-friendly content. 
While the series was obviously not appropriate for very young children, Ren and Stimpy may have actually been beneficial for older kids, say middle school and above. Its lampooning of children's television and the marketing that goes with it, blind patriotism, and other non-family-friendly messages raise questions in the viewer about what other cartoons are teaching kids, and provide a counterpoint to the otherwise generally saccharine fare of other cartoons. While Ren and Stimpy may not have taught kids to be good citizens, it did seem to promote the idea of questioning what is delivered to you. In an age where standardized tests seem to have resulted in a decline of critical thinking skills, perhaps we need more cartoons like Ren and Stimpy, to jar us out of our comfort zone and remind us that the real world is sometimes unpleasant, often disturbing, and rarely what those in authority say it is.

What Are Cartoons For?

It is important to note that cartoons were never intended to be a medium for children. The cartoons we most often think of, from the Golden Age of Animation (1920s-1950s)--Warner Brothers, Betty Boop, Popeye, etc.--originally ran before feature films, along with newsreels. And watching them, you can see that their content appeals much more to adults than children.

After all, Betty Boop was a lounge singer:

And Bugs Bunny parodied Tarzan movies (made for adults), featuring two gorillas' failed marriage:

During World War II, cartoons were even used as propaganda:

Note the cheerful racism and and homophobia used to mock the Nazis.

This shouldn't be surprising--animation was still a relatively new medium in the first 20th century, and few entertainment mediums start out directed at children. However, in the late 50s and into the 60s, Walt Disney in particular began to move cartoons into a period of family-friendliness. Over the following decades, our modern perspective began to develop: cartoons are meant for children.

I'm not going to debate the validity of this perspective, though I would argue that any artistic style should probably not be limited to consumption by the under-18 crowd. The truth of the matter is that today, cartoons in America are primarily created for and marketed to children. Which begs the question--what, exactly, is their purpose? Are cartoons a medium by which we pass down social norms and traditions to the next generation, to educate them in how to behave in society? Are they a purely educational medium? An entertainment medium? Or are they a mix?

It turns out that no one seems to be able to agree about this. While all cartoons seem to give a cursory nod to the notion of being "educational" for the sake of airtime, cartoons have a wide range of purposes. Shows such as Doug or Hey Arnold!  feature normal kids dealing with on everyday situations—poverty, bullying, friendship, etc. They teach social norms, and while they are of course entertaining, their focus is more on plot than humor. Other cartoons, like Dora the Explorer are purely educational in a more traditional sense. One can't help but notice that these edutainment cartoons tend to be marketed towards much younger children.

On the other end of the spectrum we have cartoons such as Regular Show or Rocko’s Modern Life. They feature gross-out or wacky humor, highly stylized and frequently non-human characters, and little to no educational value, though they may deal with similar themes as the social norms 'toons. Some might argue that these cartoons don't have a point--they are just mindless entertainment. They also tend to be the cartoons that push boundaries the most (see my next post on Ren and Stimpy). Rocko's Modern Life in particular features more innuendo than most adult shows--it seems like the writers and animators were trying to see what they could get away with. However, it's also true that these cartoons are significantly more fun for adults to watch with their kids, considering that they feature more nods to grown-ups than most other shows.

Finally, there are many cartoons that have blended educational or social norm themes with entertainment and (usually) subtle adult humor. Shows like Animaniacs feature songs about world and state capitals along with Looney Tunes-style hijinks. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, meant for young girls, has spawned a following of college-age men called "bronies," due to its ability to blend jokes for adults with extremely blatant messages about the power of friendship. Yet these cartoons may be the most difficult to make, and the first to go awry. While the pure entertainment cartoons make no claims to being moral compasses or educational venues, the mixed cartoons can end up sending questionable messages. For example, if Wakko can teach us about the state capitals, what is he and his siblings teaching us about women in this clip?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Remember Sesame Street when we were kids?  Well it has all changed because when I was a child, the characters used to be cool and fun.  For example, Cookie Monster used to have a pipe and then eat it along with his cookies as a trademark.  But today People think this promotes smoking. How ridiculous! How would kids know what smoking is and why would they even think about it that young.  Burt and Ernie used to live together in separate beds but in the same room and now critics believe that it came off as homosexual.  This is weird how we think today.  How we think we need to protect our kids from every issue that is out there.  What do we have to protect them from?  Why can't they see that we are not screwed up from by watching the show, and do you know why?  It is because kids are too young to think about these things and they do not understand.
Remember when big bird was the only one that could see snuffelufugous and know one else could? Was that weird when you were a kid? No of course it wasn't but because critics believe that big bird imagining things was a way that maybe he was high on on srooms. They perfected the show so that everyone could see him to show that big bird wasn't having hallucinations.

In one of the episodes a pretty girl lonely girl Sally found herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted the man just wanted Sally to meet his wife and and have some milk and cookies but well in this day and age he could have wanted anything. Oscar's depression was untreated. The chronically mood disordered Oscar the grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable hypersensitive, sarcastic.

Just don't bring the children. According to an earnest warning on volumes 1 and 2, “Sesame Street: Old school” is adults only “these early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grown up, and may not suit the needs of today's preschool child.”

Oscar's depression was untreated. The chronically mood disordered Oscar the grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable hypersensitive, sarcastic.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What does cartoon censorship say about what is important today?

Today when one looks at cartoons some people see mindless dribble that causes kids to be quiet for a few hours. Others see childhood memories that bring back a simpler time. I see the shift between a group working world to an individual world.

When looking at cartoons in the 90's when I was growing up I always remembered Hey Arnold and Rug Rats. These cartoons among the majority of others were about a group working together to complete a goal that is better for the entire group. Now we see in the 00's this shift to a more independent goal system for satisfaction. I think this is not showing us how important team work and cooperation is and make the world seem like a place that you can do everything on your own and there is no need for human interaction of any kind. I think this is not the way people should be making shows. The applies to censorship because censorship is a group decision to not show something and when the entire network is not going to show a group environment, they are therefore censoring the children of the day from this type of work. Shows like Total Drama Island do not show a group working atmosphere, it shows a cut throat everyman for himself way of winning.

Thinking about other problems with cartoons now would be what they are trying to portray. When watching cartoons now all we see are these utopias and "perfect lives" such as shows like Sixteen and Total Drama Island. These shows are depicting "children" as these rich kids that don't really have any rules and are just able to do what they want and not pay for it. This is now showing what the main theme of Hey Arnold was. This basic theme was, take what you have, and as a group work together and make the best out of it. I think this style of show teaches so much. This censorship is only showing the good parts of life and are not showing how to deal with difficult situations. I think these shows were taken off the air because it shows a hard type of life that people found offensive to show "poor" people. This however is just censoring children from the real world. I think it would be better to show children these things and talk about it rather than delete it from existence.

My following posts will be of show clips that show both older and newer cartoons that will give examples of what we are not showing anymore because people don't want to see the setting in this area or like how the characters are represented in a real life manner.